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Federal Appeals Court Blocks Florida’s Free Speech Law For Violating Free Speech

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A federal appeals court panel has unanimously ruled that a Florida law intended to punish social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment, NPR reports. The ruling is a major victory for companies that had been accused by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of discriminating against conservatives for not allowing hate speech on their platforms.

The law, called the Stop Social Media Censorship Act, was proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January 2021. The measure was passed by the state legislature passed last year, and was the first of its kind to be signed.

But the three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that it was overreach for DeSantis and the Republican-led Florida Legislature to tell the social media companies how to conduct their work under the Constitution’s free speech guarantee.

“Put simply, with minor exceptions, the government can’t tell a private person or entity what to say or how to say it. We hold that it is substantially likely that social media companies — even the biggest ones — are private actors whose rights the First Amendment protects,” said Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, in the opinion.

The plaintiffs were pleased with the Court of Appeals’ decision.

“This ruling means platforms cannot be forced by the government to disseminate vile, abusive and extremist content under penalty of law. This is good news for internet users, the First Amendment and free speech in a democracy,” CCIA president Matt Schruers said in a statement.

“We’re pleased the court ensured that social media can remain family-friendly by delaying Florida’s law from taking effect,” Steve DelBianco, president of NetChoice, an industry group that was one of the plaintiffs suing to overturn the law, said in a statement after the judge’s ruling last year. “This order protects private businesses against the state’s demand that social media carry user posts that are against their community standards.”

Florida can now either appeal to the Supreme Court, or drop the matter altogether.

Read more at NPR.